Can you really taste the difference? Is it healthier for you and is it better for the environment? These are all questions that spring to mind when the discussion on organic, biodynamic and natural wines comes up.
So what’s different between these 3? All three have factors in common not least of which are little manmade intervention, zero technology i.e. no sugars or yeasts added. What you see in the vineyard is what you get in the bottle. But when we get down to the nitty gritty, what can or rather cannot be done to the grapes in order to produce wine that can be considered drinkable?
Organic and biodynamic are largely vineyard-related practices while some certification does restrict what you do in the cellar. No synthetic chemicals can be used in organic farming while the principles propagated by Rudolf Steiner’s Theosophical philosophy takes it a step further that prevention is better than cure. Build a strong, robust vine by using plants, minerals that occur naturally and animals for manure, and the battle against diseases is mostly won. Planting, pruning and harvesting are done according to the cycles of the moon and the movement of planets and stars. It’s a holistic approach preaching the inter-connectivity of everything.
Sulphites are used to preserve wine and to give it a longer shelf-and cellar life. This is taken into account by organic and biodynamic winemakers but to a far lesser degree than would generally be the case. Wild yeasts or certified organic yeasts get the fermentation process started while stabilisers have to be bentonite or cream of tartar to prevent clouding. ‘Less is more’ could easily be the motto.
So what distinguishes natural from the biodynamic and organic? No real definition exists for natural wines and no certification has as yet been issued by authorities but disciples are increasing and practices are being firmly established. ‘No’ is a word you’ll hear often when speaking to a natural winemaker. It applies to irrigation, machinery, yeasts, bacteria, additives, sulphites (although some cheat ever so slightly just before bottling), fining, filtration, meddling on the whole.
Ultimately, do they taste any different? In some cases, a resounding ‘yes’ is the answer. Unfortunately, however, this would apply in the negative sense and the liquid would preferably be spat out rather than consumed. This was the case for most who tasted Les Quarterons 2012 Sancerre (Alko €28.58) by Sébastien Riffault, a young winemaker who has taken over his father’s 5-hectare property in the Loire Valley. This Sauvignon Blanc gives you a strong nose of straw and farmyard and a smoky palate with yeast and speaks to you straight from the earth it grows in, but whether it’s palatable is another matter. It grows on you but it’s not something I would choose for a party. The blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne, Viognier and Marsanne is something that you might look for in France’s Rhone Valley but this one comes from a producer in the Casablanca Valley in Chile called Emiliana. Signos De Origen La Vinilla is organically farmed, fermented in stainless steel and finished off in used oak barrels. The wine is lush with tropical fruit and nuttiness on the palate and has enough acidity to give it a medium finish.
The reds were more interesting than the white wines at this tasting. Austria has made its mark on the wine industry ranking mostly as high quality and Beck Ink (Alko €16.50) holds that banner high. Watch out for Judith Beck. She has taken control of the family winery in Gols on the eastern side of Neusiedlersee in Burgenland and she’s doing some pretty amazing stuff. A blend of Zweigelt and St. Laurent, this wine is vibrant and fresh with balanced acidity in the sour cherry, herbaceous flavours. It would go well with smoky meats.
Another female winemaker in this male-dominated world is Elizabetta Foradori from the Dolomites. Her grape of choice? Teroldego, a new one for me but not for Italy where it’s been cultivated for hundreds of years. Horseradish and herbs on the nose and dustiness on the palate turns this wine into a fine example of what minimal intervention creates. Simply called Foradori 2014 (Alko €29.90), it shows the true colours of the stony terroir from where it hails.
Wine tastings with Veli-Antti Koivuranta, the Viiniministeri, take place at Nomad Cellars more or less 4 to 5 times a month and are laid-back, fun and reasonably priced events where you’ll feel comfortable whether you’re a novice or someone who takes this thing of sipping wine seriously. Website: http://www.viiniministeri.fi/ (for details in English, call +358 40 414 3705).